Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Likely Winners and Losers in Trump Budget Proposal

You can read a detailed budget analysis in many places, including this one from Ronald Brownstein in The Atlantic (one of my favorite sources for news and commentary). But I know you're busy, so here's a quick take on likely winners and losers.

Defense contractors
Older white Americans (4/5 of seniors today are white)

Younger generations and minorities (47 percent of Americans under 30 are minorities)
Poor people
People with disabilities
National debt -- more spending and lower taxes = more debt
The environment

The president's budget proposal protects Social Security and Medicare but slashes other domestic programs that represent important investments in our future, like education, training, and scientific research. As Brownstein points out, "In the long run, the older white population needs more of the younger non-white population to obtain the skills to reach the middle class -- and pay the payroll taxes that support the federal retirement programs on which those graying whites depend." Or in other words, "There is no financial security for the gray without economic opportunity for the brown." (A point Brownstein makes in his excellent article "Why Trump Has It Backwards on Minority Groups.")

For more budget details, read "Trump's Budget Proposal Threatens Democratic and Republican Ambitions."

The Key to Ensuring Disability Rights? It May Be the Courts

I've shared a discouraging prediction with several friends: I think it's unlikely that the rights, treatment, and support for people with disabilities will improve over the next four years. The best we can hope for is to maintain the protections and programs that are currently in place.

That's why I was encouraged by the rapid response of the ACLU and the courts to President Trump's travel ban, which was unquestionably unconstitutional and a denial of rights based on religion. I know that will be the first of many damaging policies that will get shot down on legal grounds.

Writing for Rewire, Robyn Powell emphasizes the importance of the courts in defending and even advancing rights. She says: "As a disabled woman and an attorney, I am keenly aware of two things: Disability rights are facing significant threats under the Trump administration, and courts can greatly advance or hinder civil rights." She cites the recent Supreme Court decision Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, which sided with the family of a 13-year-old girl who was denied the right to bring her service dog to school. The court ruled that a family can seek enforcement under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) without first going through the administrative process under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Powell writes: "If the election and Trump have taught me anything, it has been to expect the unexpected. What is clear to me is that disability rights, civil rights, Muslim rights, Jewish rights, immigrant rights, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and the rights of people of color are all under attack....It is important that we actively pursue all means necessary for enforcing our civil rights...[and] the courts may indeed be our best option."

Read "Are the Courts the Solution to Ensuring Disability Rights During the Trump Era?"

Disability/Arts Advocate Invited to Joint Session of Congress

When President Trump gives his first address to Congress tonight, at least one person in the audience will be listening for assurance that he will support the laws and programs that protect people with disabilities. Jeannine Chartier, a survivor of childhood polio and head of Vision Strength Access (VSA) Arts Rhode Island, will attend the joint session as a guest of U.S. Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI).

In a new release on Rep. Cicilline's website, Chartier says:
"Like so many of my friends and colleagues, I have been shocked and frightened by how Donald Trump conducted himself as a candidate and how he has governed as president. As a woman with a disability, an artist, and the director of an arts education nonprofit, I hope that my attendance will show the president that Americans like me will not just stay at home and let him undo all of the progress we have made in recent years. America is our country too, and we deserve a voice."

For 21 years, Chartier has been the executive and artistic director of VSA, a Rhode Island program that provides arts programs for children and adults with disabilities.

Take a moment to thank Congressman Cicilline for shining a light on the accomplishments and rights of people with disabilities.

401-729-5600 or 202-225-4911

Monday, February 27, 2017

Secretary DeVos: Don't Forget About Civil Rights

Like many civil rights advocates, Derek Black, a law professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, predicts that the Trump Administration will try to aggressively scale back enforcement of civil rights in public schools. Read "Law Professor: Expect Big Rollback of Civil Rights Enforcement in Education Under Trump and DeVos" from the Washington Post.

Furthering that concern are suggestions that the new head of the department's Office of Civil Rights may be Gail Heriot, who in the past has been critical of the office for taking too strong a stance on enforcement. (And who once likened transgender students to people who want to believe they are Russian princesses.)

More than 60 civil rights groups have written to Secretary Betsy DeVos urging her to appoint a head of the Office of Civil Rights who has experience fighting discrimination against marginalized students. In other words, someone who's qualified.

In the letter, the groups say:
"Every child has the right to attend a public school that is warm, welcoming, rigorous, and that prepares them for success in life Our bedrock civil rights laws, made meaningful through enforcement and oversight, stand guard to protect that right and ensure equal educational opportunity....The selection of an individual to lead the Office of Civil Rights is one of the most significant decisions you and the president will make with regard to the civil rights of the nation's students....The assistant secretary should have a track record of experience with a range of civil rights issues, have experience with and be committed to remedying individual and systemic discrimination, be prepared to follow wherever the law and the facts lead, and believe that every student in kindergarten through 12th grade has the right to be in school every day and be treated with dignity without the burden of discrimination." Read the full letter.

Here's who signed the letter. If you agree, let the secretary's office know at 202-401-3000.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
National Women's Law Center
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity
American Association of People with Disabilities
American Association of University Women (AAUW)
American Civil Liberties Union
The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees
American Federation of Teachers
American Jewish Committee (AJC)
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
Anti-Defamation League
The Arc of the United States
Association of University Centers on Disabilities
Augustus F. Hawkins Foundation
Coalition for Disability Health Equity
Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
Education Law Center-PA
Equal Rights Advocates
Human Rights Campaign
International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies (IAOHRA)
Japanese American Citizens League
Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
LatinoJustice PRLDEF
Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
League of United Latin American Citizens
National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE)
National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities
National Association of Human Rights Workers
National Bar Association
National Black Justice Coalition
National Center for Learning Disabilities
National Center for Lesbian Rights
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Congress of American Indians
National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA)
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council of La Raza
National Down Syndrome Congress
National Education Association
National Employment Law Project
National Indian Education Association
National LGBTQ Task Force
National Organization for Women
National Partnership for Women & Families
National Urban League
OCA - Asian Pacific American Advocates
People For the American Way
Poverty & Race Research Action Council
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)
Southern Poverty Law Center
Woodhull Freedom Foundation
World Without Genocide at Mitchell Hamline School of Law

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Op-ed: "Disabled, Shunned, and Silenced in Trump's America"

Writing in the New York Times, Melissa Blake, a journalist with Freeman-Sheldon syndrome, says she felt like "I'd just been punched in the gut" when she realized the disabilities section of the White House website had been removed. Not updated. Removed.

Here's the archived website section on disabilities, which commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and recognizes the importance of "ensuring that people with disabilities have the same access to the American Dream as every other citizen," through education, employment, health care, and civil rights.

Realizing that the new administration had chosen to completely eliminate this content, she heard a voice that sometimes makes her question her place in society: "You don't matter." "You're not worth it." "You're not a person."

She writes: "I’m afraid of living in a country that would shun people with disabilities as if they didn’t exist. I’m afraid to live in a country that sends these kinds of messages and think it’s perfectly all right. Because it’s most definitely not all right and never will be.

"If Trump really cared about giving people their power back, it would behoove him to actually sit down with members of the disability community and listen — really listen — to their stories and their concerns and their recommendations for the future.

"My mantra has always been 'I’m a person,' and that has never been truer than right now. Yes, I am a person. I matter. People with disabilities matter. I will never stop fighting for our rights and against bullies. I will never not be a person. I’m taking back my power and I want President Trump to know it."

Read "Disabled, Shunned, and Silenced in Trump's America."

Read the New York Times' weekly column exploring the lives of people with disabilities.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

BREAKING: Update on IDEA Website

Today I was interviewed by Emma Brown, the Washington Post reporter who covered the missing Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) website last week. She told me what she's heard from the department, and I told her what I'm hearing from parents.

From her article, "Education Department's Special-Ed Has Been Down for More Than a Week, and Parents are Not Happy":
"There's been no estimate of when it'll be restored, no explanation of why it's not there," said Mark Miller, who blogs about special-education issues and is a Montgomery County, Md., parent of a child with special needs. "It makes people feel like we're not important and our children are not important. Their communication has been very poor and is contributing to the perception that this is not a priority for the secretary."

The article was posted online at 5:21pm today, and at some point the website reappeared, pretty much in the same form it was before -- idea.ed.gov. Which is odd considering what a department official told Brown:

  • "The site has been troubled by technical glitches and IT experts are not comfortable restoring the site at this point because its server remains unstable and could crash at any time." When did they change their mind, and is the site still unstable?
  • "Everything that was available on the website is available elsewhere on the main Education Department site." The official either lied or was misinformed. This simply was not true.
This isn't just about a website. When it comes time for this administration to recommend policy affecting children with disabilities, remember that the department's first actions regarding special education were to:
  • Announce on Twitter that a "technical glitch" had removed special-education information from the department's website (only after this has been pointed out by numerous concerned families).
  • Ignore phone calls, emails, and other inquiries from teachers, parents, and senators.
  • Not post any follow-up information for a week (and they still haven't).
  • State that the website could not be restored because it was not stable.
  • Falsely claim the information was available somewhere else on the education department's website.
  • Restore the website after allowing the issue to blow up due to a lack of honesty and transparency.
In related news, yesterday Secretary DeVos launched her official Twitter account, @BetsyDevosED. Which is appropriate, because in only her second week, I already feel like I've been #BetsyDevosed.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Betsy DeVos, You've Got Mail. Pressure to Restore IDEA Website Intensifies as Senators Demand Accountability

Thanks to activists and concerned citizens like you, Secretary Betsy DeVos is feeling real pressure to restore the IDEA website. This movement started with phone calls, tweets, and emails from people like you and me, and now two senators have raised the stakes. In a letter to Secretary DeVos on Friday, Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell demanded an explanation and a plan to restore the information. Read the letter below and then take a minute to thank Senators Murray and Cantwell for their support on this important issue. Twitter: @SenatorCantwell and @PattyMurray. Facebook: Senator Murray and Senator Cantwell. Here's the letter:

During your [confirmation] hearing...your statements regarding the landmark Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) raised concerns among children with disabilities and their parents about your the the Trump administration's view on special education and the rights of these families and students. We expect you and the Trump administration to fulfill your commitment to all students, including students with disabilities.

To that end, we are deeply concerned that prior to your confirmation and arrival at the department, the centralized resource website for IDEA (http://www.idea.ed.gov) became inaccessible to the public for more than a week, and is now redirecting people to a site for the Office of Special Education. The OSEP website lacks much of the information previously available.

The department's failure to keep this critical resource operational makes it harder for parents, educators, and administrators to find the resources they need to implement this federal law and protect the rights of children with disabilities. For more than a decade, this website, which was released by President George W. Bush's Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, has served as a one-stop shop for resources related to IDEA and its regulations. The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services has consistently updated this website as Congress has enacted new legislation and the courts have interpreted the law....

...We are seeking a detailed explanation for the disappearance ofthese centralized resources, and the plan to restore this critical information. We request you provide our staff with the following information:
1)  Your assurance that this website will not be stripped down in any way during your tenure.
2)  A detailed timeline of when the centralized resources previously available at www.idea.ed.gov became inaccessible to public view and all subsequent steps that were taken to restore these resources as well as all steps taken to provide the public with more limited information from third party sites or other areas ofthe Department website.
3)  To the extent there are (or were) technical problems that led to the removal of the centralized resources, please provide a technical report on the issue, how it was resolved and/or when it is expected to be resolved if the issue was limited to this specific part of the Department's website, and if so why.
4)  A detailed plan for restoring the information previously available including all previously available resources for students, parents, schools, districts, state governments, researchers, and policy makers containing information about their rights under IDEA, information about the law and regulations to facilitate high degrees of compliance, model forms, presentations pertaining to IDEA, materials for training, and guidance documents relating to IDEA.
5)  The date by which all information previously available at www.idea.ed.gov will again be accessible to the public at a central location.
6)  A detailed plan for how parents will be informed of the problems with the website and what has been done to address the problems, to ensure that nobody who went to the website in recent days will be discouraged from accessing this information in the future.
7)  A detailed description of any content from the website that was modified by the Department during the period oftime the website was removed from the public domain. For each change, a detailed explanation for the modification.

Thank you for your attention to this pressing matter.

Welcome to the working world, Betsy. This is called accountability.

Medicaid Cuts a "Prescription to Hurt the Neediest Kids"

Proposed cuts to Medicaid will significantly harm students with disabilities, according to a national survey of school superintendents. A plan that Republican leaders are pushing would reduce Medicaid spending by 25 percent by distributing Medicaid funding through a block grant or a per-capita cap, shifting costs to states. It's estimated that these cuts would actually be 30 to 35 percent when combined with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Under Medicaid, schools are eligible to receive funding for medically necessary services for students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This revenue helps cover the costs of nurses, therapists, and others that provide services for children with disabilities and health services for students living in poverty.

School leaders surveyed by AASA, the School Superintendents Association, said a 30 percent cut to Medicaid would disproportionately affect children with disabilities. Survey respondents (school superintendents and assistant superintendents, school business officials, and special education directors) anticipate the following consequences:

  • Schools would need to reduce services and support for students with disabilities.
  • Schools would be less able to provide qualified therapists (physical, occupational, and speech).
  • Many schools will struggle to comply with the requirements of the IDEA, which is already "woefully underfunded."
  • Health services for children with chronic conditions would be reduced.
  • The inability of families to access regular check-ins, immunizations, and screenings for vision, dental, and hearing would increase absenteeism and interfere with their children's ability to learn. 

Read the report.

It's important to note that cuts to Medicaid would impact all children, not just those who are low-income or in special education. As one respondent said, "Without Medicaid funds, we would be forced to cut services to the majority of our students to make up for the special education mandates, which are mostly underfunded or not funded at all." That would mean larger class sizes, tighter budgets for salaries and programs, and cuts to important support like guidance counselors and mental health services. It would also be difficult to attract and retain high-quality educators and administrators.

The report concludes:
"School leaders are deeply concerned by the impact a block grant would have on districts’ ability to deliver critical special education supports and health services to students. We urge mem- bers of Congress to weigh how children will be impacted by a Medicaid block grant and to reach out to school leaders for speci c insights about the importance of their school-based Medicaid programs for students."

Read "School District Chiefs: Proposed Medicaid Changes Would Hurt Poor Children and Students with Disabilities" from the Washington Post.

Read the report, "Cutting Medicaid: A Prescription to Hurt the Neediest Kids."

Thursday, February 9, 2017

More on the IDEA Website: What's There (not much), What's Not (a lot)

The Department of Education took a baby step in restoring information about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), but many resources that families depend on are missing. Thanks to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, I took a close look at what was there as recently as Jan. 18 and the lightweight page idea.ed.gov links to now.

Here's a before and after. On the left is what the IDEA microsite used to look like. On the right is the page idea.ed.gov now redirects to -- just a subpage for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services:

What the homepage of idea.ed.gov looked like on Jan. 18:

From this page, you can choose between IDEA Part B (which applies to ages 3-21) or IDEA Part C (birth to age 2). Here's what the Part B page looked like on Jan. 18:

So basically, the Education Department has this information available:
  • The text of the IDEA statute.
  • The text of the IDEA Part B regulations
  • The text of the IDEA Part C regulations
  • Memos and policy letters from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
  • Training resources for state and local agencies
I should also mention that the department's Office of Civil Rights still has this page live, describing the civil rights of students under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

All of the other information and resources for parents, teachers, and school districts is not available, including disproportionality, early intervention, evaluation, funding, how to detect specific learning disabilities, monitoring and enforcement, private schools. and secondary transition. It's missing training materials, model forms, video clips, presentations, and Q&A documents, and more.

The ball's in your court (still), Department of Education. Do you care enough about IDEA and the families and teachers who need this information to fix your technical glitch?

Who will join me in calling the secretary's office at 202-401-3000 every day until this is resolved? Also, tweet to @usedgov, @ED_Spec_Rehab, and @EDCivilRights.

IDEA Website is Back (sort of); Dept. of Education "Functioning Under the Same Laws"

"Please know that OSEP is here, functioning under the same laws, and happy to answer calls and emails about our work whenever possible."
On Thursday night, I left a voicemail for many offices at the Department of Education. This morning,  one replied -- the Office of Special Education Programs. Here are highlights of our email conversation:

I'm reaching out to you in response to your phone call to our office—the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education. I just wanted to let you know that we are working with our tech folks to get IDEA.ed.gov up and running as soon as possible, and that we are incredibly sorry for all of the inconvenience the glitch has caused. I completely understand what a blow not having this excellent resource is—our staff use it all the time as well! In the meantime, please use the site below to access the regulations and other resources on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers/osep/osep-idea.html

I know that you and other employees are working hard to continue the important mission of the Department of Education, and in your case, special education. 

As you can imagine, families like mine are concerned about the impact of the new administration on special education. Having the IDEA website go down during this time raises a lot of concerns - as if the department did this intentionally. I know that technical glitches happen, and I think it's important for the department to announce that the site is live and that the department continues to support students with disabilities and the principles of the IDEA.

Is there anything I can tell my concerned friends about the department's commitment in this area?

Thank you for your understanding! We are working on providing updates on these technical difficulties, and notifying the public of this new temporary page that the idea.ed.gov domain now redirects to.

Please know that OSEP is here, functioning under the same laws, and happy to answer calls and emails about our work whenever possible.

Thanks for helping us spread the word on the website!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The IDEA Website Down: Tell the Education Department You Care (UPDATED)

This morning, when Betsy DeVos started her job as Secretary of Education, many people noticed that an entire section of the department's website was missing -- the part about that pesky Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). During her confirmation hearing, Secretary DeVos expressed a lack of understanding about the federal act that protects the rights of students with disabilities -- and even expressed an opinion that the states should decide what rights children should have.

So you can imagine that even with the official explanation from the department, people are skeptical that this was a mere coincidence, since the majority of the website remains intact and online. Is this an attack on special education, or a technical glitch that will soon be resolved? Neither would surprise me.

What You Can Do:

This is a great opportunity to show the leadership and staff at the Department of Education that parents and advocates are paying attention. We have to be a squeaky wheel, and a broken website is a big deal.

1. Tweet to @usedgov and ask when the idea.ed.gov site will be available.

2. Keep checking, and let me know when it's back. The actual URL is https://www2.ed.gov/not_home-IDEA.html. Tweet to me at @mmiller20910.

3. Call the department and tell the staff you want and need this information. Here are a few numbers:
  • Department of Education, 1-800-872-5327
  • Office of the Secretary, 202-401-3000
  • Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, 202-245-7459 (#9 for director) or 202-245-6496
  • Office of Civil Rights, 800-421-3481, OCR@ed.gov
  • Office of the Chief Information Officer, 202-245-6640
Please keep in mind that you will probably reach a non-political staff member. Be polite, but let them know that you are concerned about this, and ask for a specific estimate for when the website will be restored. I've seen firsthand that this is how website issues get fixed -- we need lots of people going to their bosses saying people are asking and/or complaining. If this is truly a technical glitch, it will be easy to fix. If it's not restored soon, that will be a sign of worse things to come.

UPDATE (Feb. 9, 7:30am): I left a voicemail at each of these numbers last night. Today , the voicemail for the Office of the Secretary says, "Sorry, Office of the Secretary is not available. You cannot record a message for Office of the Secretary. This mailbox is full."

Chief Information Officer: "The number you have reached is not in service. This is a recording."

While we still need to call attention to this problem, which is denying families information they need, there IS some IDEA information on the education website at https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers/osep/osep-idea.html. This does not replace the need to restore idea.ed.gov, but share this with people who need information immediately.

UPDATE TO UPDATE (Feb. 9, 9:00am): The website appears to have been restored. Someone noticed that the blog link doesn't work. Are there other differences? idea.ed.gov

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

She's Your Education Secretary. Now What?

Reposting a message from my Facebook page. Now the work begins.

I'm seeing so many friends expressing surprise/shock that the Senate has confirmed Betsy DeVos as the most unqualified education secretary of all time. I'm not shocked, and I want to tell you why.
"We" - American voters - elected a president who surrounds himself with loyal billionaires. And we've collectively elected a Republican-majority House and Senate, and we're living with the consequences. The Republicans have all the leverage, and (sorry) hearing from constituents isn't as powerful as pressure from the White House and their party's leadership. Money and power > public opinion.
Why would Republican senators who understand and support public education support this nominee? Many reasons:
  1. It's in their own personal interest. Breaking with the party could harm their careers, and going with the majority can be good for them. (Kudos to Senators Collins and Murkowski, but it will be interesting to see how they pay for this vote. And those Republican senators who were supposedly undecided? They were playing a game, just holding out for an incentive to keep them in line. If they went by what they heard from their constituents, they would have voted differently.)
  2. Many Republicans like Senators McCain and Graham have signaled their willingness to challenge President Trump on some big issues. But they have to pick their battles, and the truth is that public education isn't as important to them as Russian interference with our elections and other international issues.
  3. Even more sadly, education just isn't a top issue with everything else going on. During the campaign, it was barely mentioned by any candidate. Clearly, there are few Republicans are willing to fall on their sword over public education.

So now what? Parents, teachers, and others need to pressure our now-Secretary of Education to do the right thing for ALL students. Many of my friends are personally affected by special education. Keep up the pressure, and intensify it. Get over Secretary DeVos's incompetent performance in her confirmation hearings. Get over the fact that she got this job because of her wealth and political donations. Let her know she and her appointees will hear from you on every decision that affects you and your children.
More important, remember how you're feeling today and apply that passion to the mid-term elections. Hold your elected officials accountable, and work to kick them out of office if you think that's what's needed. To make real change, and to prevent further damage, we need checks and balances, and a Democratic majority is in our grasp.
This was a losing effort, but be encouraged by the passion and unity it inspired. Don't give up.

Disability Scoop

Special Ed News (Education Week)

Special Education Law